Tag Archives: choices

Following Jesus in a Stranger Danger World


Today at church we read from Matthew 2 about Jesus calling the tax collector named Levi son of Alphaeus. I actually went to the first and second service today, so I heard this twice. On second reading, I got thinking about doing a children’s story on the reading.

First, I thought I might just go up to the kids in the pews with their parents and say, Follow me.” In my own church, this wouldn’t help to make my point about how amazing it was that he did follow Jesus because the kids all know me and likely would be quick to follow me. They might stop at the door if I tried to lead them out or off the property.

My next thought was to suggest a number of scenarios with a stranger asking them to follow. Maybe a person coming up to them at the park, or at school. I might describe them as dressed in different types of things, black masked with dark clothes, a person all dressed up, a person in jeans and at shirt. Though they may be more inclined to go with someone in a police or fire department uniform, I realized that, perhaps more than ever, the kids would likely say no to anybody new who suggested they leave what they are doing and go along with them.

But in both Mark 1 and 2 there are stories of Jesus walking past people and just calling them to follow him…and they did! Fishermen followed, leaving their nets, boats, and families with seemingly not a second thought. Perhaps this seems less likely with a busy tax collector, both because of his activity, and because he would have be considered persona-non-gratis amongst the Jews of the time. Did he not wonder, “Can he be talking to me? I am a great sinner!”?

Jesus is still out there calling us to him, children and adults alike. The question that comes to my mind is, in such a troubled world in which we see daily footage of violence, kidnappings, and accidents, is it even less likely that we would pick up and follow without question? As a Christian, I would like to think that I would hop right up, but then maybe not.

Have you followed? What made you follow? Did you keep following? Do you think people would be likely to follow you to God?

Grace; what do we do with it?


Tool BeltSumming up the last three sermons about Grace; Grace may be defined as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God; grace is available to all people, over 7 billion in the world today; and there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except make ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.   

Since we have been justified by faith and forgiven for our sins, what are we meant to do going forward? Many people have questioned the doctrine of grace earned by faith alone as it seems to imply that, since we are already justified, we have no need to be good, or do anything in the world.  This is, of course, not the case.  As children of God, forgiven through Christ, we commit ourselves to live a Christ-like life.  As our Epistle reading this morning reads in The Message, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.  Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is.”   What does this life look like?

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey talks about, “tracing the roots of the word grace, or charis in Greek, and finding a verb that means “I rejoice, I am glad.”  He goes on to say that, “In my experience, rejoicing and gladness are not the first images that come to mind when people think of the church.  They think of holier-than-thous.  They think of church as a place to go when you have cleaned up your act, not before.”  As people of grace, we want our lives and our church to reflect this rejoicing and gladness, and we want people to feel free to join us no matter where they are on their journey of faith.

In our readings last week we read the story of Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray in the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.  It is in this prayer that we run up against the first requirement of leading a Christ-like life.  Jesus instructed them to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  The first part is all good, forgiveness of our debts, grace, is central to our lives. The problem appears in the form of one of the shortest, and in this case most powerful, words in our language, “as.” Forgive us like we forgive. It is a powerful word because while we are happy to be forgiven, there is a clear link here between our forgiveness by the Father and our own forgiving of our friends, neighbours, and enemies. Our first task as Christians is to forgive, to pass the grace along, and this is definitely a counter-culture way of thinking. 

Yancey quotes Elizabeth O’Connor who puts the dilemma this way, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven.  Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.” The human tendency would be to brood over wrongs, hold grudges, plot revenge, and pray that the bad guys get their just deserts in harsh punishments. I have no intention of making forgiveness sound easy in this sermon.  It is not. I pray the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and I often find myself tripped up in the middle and having to go off on a tangent to try to bring myself around to forgiveness for someone else before I can pray the remainder of the prayer. Luckily we have God to help us with our natural tendency towards unforgiveness.

Forgiving others is an emotional and spiritual challenge which we work out mostly internally and through the help of the Holy Spirit.  In more practical terms, let’s look at some of the other things we should be doing as recipients of grace, and to be as Christ-like as possible. I referred last week to the ‘means of grace’ which are a gift from God rather than a checklist to be completed in order to receive grace.  Steven Manskar describes them as, “… how we grow and mature in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength….This means of grace are divided into two general categories: works of piety and works of mercy.”  There follows a nice concrete list…

Piety                                                              Mercy

prayer (private and family)                   feeding the hungry

public worship                                           clothing the naked

the Lord’s Supper                                     caring for the sick

reading & studying the Bible                visiting the jails and prisons

Christian conference                               sheltering the homeless

fasting or abstinence                               welcoming the stranger

                                                                        peacemaking

                                                                        acting for the common good 

These are all things Jesus did and taught his disciples to do, not in order to receive forgiveness but because they were forgiven.

 In reading through several recent issues of the Presbyterian Record I saw many examples of these acts of piety and mercy; I read of the power of prayer; of many different styles of worship from Sunday mornings in the established churches to worship around the campfire at one of our many summer camps; I saw ads for different colleges and universities and the elders institute offering both Christian conference and study, I read of assistance given to people from Fort McMurray and the congregation there, of women’s retreats,  of congregations sponsoring refugees from Syria and Namibia, of young people identifying needs in the community and starting a program to help, of the church signing a joint statement stating that the church would work to implement the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous; the discipleship is there, it is active and vibrant throughout the national church.

 Is discipleship active here at St. Paul’s?  I believe that it is.  You put an emphasis on worship through our Sunday services 52 times each year.  You regularly meet to share the Lord’s Supper and include in that everyone who attends worship. Worship is based on the reading and interpretation of the Word, and make available monthly books for daily devotion.  Meeting in Bible studies, coffee hours etc. there is a chance to share experiences, questions, and insights with each other.  You are always ready to welcome people to the congregation, collect for food banks, lead services and help with birthday parties at the Carleton Manor, send birthday and Christmas cards and fruit trays to seniors, celebrate PWS&D Sunday, support the Atlantic Mission Society and Presbyterians Sharing. 

Manskar stresses in his article the need to maintain a balance in our works rather than to, “always gravitate toward those that suit our temperament or personality. For example, an introvert may naturally be drawn to …private prayer, Bible study and fasting…and will tend to neglect worship, conference and works of mercy…while an extroverted person will naturally be drawn to those works of piety and mercy that suit his/her temperament but will neglect time alone with God in prayer and reflection.  Could we challenge ourselves to stretch and increase our involvement even in the areas with which we are less comfortable?  This is a question upon which every individual needs to reflect in prayer, and which our congregations need to discern in order to gain a vision for their continuing ministry within the community.

 In a world of ever bigger barns, as individuals and congregations we need to avoid the trap of the greedy farmer, filling our barns with stuff for ourselves rather than with God.  We need to look beyond ourselves to where Christ is looking. To the needs of those in hunger, in pain, in trouble with the law, everyone we meet, for as it states in Colossians, “Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing.  From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. “

 We will know we are getting it right when people see a church which is active, vital, open and welcoming; a place to come for help, as well as to offer help, and a place to grow in the love and service of Christ. 

 

Manskar, Steven W. “Opening Ourselves To Grace: The Basics Of Christian Discipleship – Umcdiscipleship.Org”.Umcdiscipleship.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 July 2016.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. Print.

Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997. Print.

Food, Power, and Minions/ Today Woodstock, Tomorrow the World!


http://www.lesechos.fr/medias/2014/07/03/1002787_multinationales-du-conseil-les-maitres-de-linfluence-85676-1.jpg

 Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, filled by the Holy Spirit and being tempted by the devil. As I write today we have been in the wilderness of Lent for 10 days. The first of our series focused on the devil’s first test, the personal temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy Jesus most basic physical need, hunger. The hungry crave fullness. Let’s turn to the second temptation, the political temptation to seize authority and glory.  “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will be yours.’ (Luke 4:5-7)
Power is the ability to influence and control others while, at the same time, withstanding outside influences which would control you. Just as the hungry crave food, the oppressed crave power, control over their own lives and those of others. This applies equally to people suffering from actual oppression such as the Israelites who were being enslaved in Egypt or civilians in Sudan today, and perceived oppression like an employee who is angry because the employer has blocked social media sites from their computer network.
Israel became a nation in the conventional sense when they convinced Samuel to anoint a king over them like the other nations had. Prior to this, Samuel was preparing to pass his authority as a judge of Israel to his sons but his sons did not follow in his ways. Samuel was upset that the people asked for a king but God pointed out that it was their rejection, not of Samuel, but of God as their king. Once they had a king, the Israelites soon discovered that human rulers were perhaps subject to even more temptation than the judges had been, as the judges looked to God for direction. As predicted, human kings took away much of their autonomy.
“He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattlec and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17)
The Messiah was supposed to come to preach, to heal, to prophesy, and to defeat the devil. In short, he would free the oppressed. Many expected this to take the form of political uprising, use of conventional power to throw off the yoke of Roman rule which, at the time, covered the world from modern day Great Britain, most of Europe, Northern Africa, Egypt, and most of the Middle East. Even if he had liberated Jerusalem from Roman authority, they would have remained surrounded by the Roman Empire.   
We may tend to think of this whole story as a quick succession of temptations and answers in this story, because that is the way that they read. But this is the story of the temptation of Jesus, not the testing. We are told right up front that Jesus was tempted, really tempted. Jesus was, as we often are, there with his finger on the trigger or the button to accept. Focused on his mission of bringing peace and healing to the world, Jesus must have thought of all he could have do with rule over all the kingdoms. There could be peace, he could make taxation fair, put in social programs to feed the poor and provide health care for the sick. He could do it all and with no need for him to suffer humiliation or pain.
God’s power is expressed in creation, healing, and judgement.  The devil offered Jesus worldly, human power. All Jesus needed to do was bow down and worship the devil. But what he was offering wasn’t really power, but submission. “Would Jesus submit to the ruler of this world in order to achieve good for the people of this world?” (Craddock 1990, p 56) No he would not. Once again Jesus answered the devil with scripture saying, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Luke 4:8) Real authority rests with God. God can give and take human authority as he did throughout the history of his people from Moses to the Judges and the Kings. God even granted provisional authority to Satan in some instances; that is how he was able to make this offer to Jesus in the first place. The devil offered Jesus kingship, God granted Jesus authority to teach, to heal, to cast out demons, to forgive, and to grant eternal life.
One interesting thing that Fred B Craddock points out in his commentary is that temptation is hardest to resist for the most able. “We aren’t tempted to do what we can’t do, but what we are able to do.” (Craddock 1990, 56) Who are those super villains in comics, out to rule the world? They are not limited, know nothings, they tend to be brilliant individuals who have had some success gaining control who then find themselves driven mad with hunger for more! Today Woodstock, tomorrow the world!
I am just guessing here but most of us don’t feel very powerful. Over what, or whom in your life do you have power? For me there would be very little problem with temptation to storm the world of sport, since I am really not athletic. As a teacher, I have power over my students in terms of when and where they can be and what they are to be doing in class, but as I point out to them it I more a perceived power than real power. If they all decided to do something else, there is no way I could stop them. I could inflict consequences after the fact as a show of power. I could give in to the temptation to be stricter, to take away freedoms they normally have in order to keep control, or I could continue to balance demands and freedoms to our mutual satisfaction.
What power do we have? We have the power of free will, of choice, which was given to us by God. We have the power of the Holy Spirit helping us to remain focused. We have the power of Scripture which, we know from Luke’s focus on it, includes the idea that scripture is adequate to generate and sustain faith and that without it even miracles would be of no use. (Craddock 1990,56) And we have the power of assurance that the devil, the tempter, has already been defeated through Christ. As Paul reminded the Philippians,
20…our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Lindsell, Harold, and Verlyn D Verbrugge. 1991. NRSV Harper Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House.
Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.

Baptism of Christ: First ask why


3631902258_3fab33242d_mThoughts for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Read Luke 3:15-22

Think back to your own baptism if they were old enough at the time to remember it, or the last baptism you witnessed to. If you have not been baptized, fear not and read on.

The other day I attended the Presbytery workshop based on the book Your Church Can Thrive by Harold Percy. I was glad to be attending but it didn’t occur to me that I would be finding anything in that time which would find its way into my message for the next day, but there it was. One of the first major points Percy made was that it is important, before getting to how to make change, to ask why we do what we do. So that is what came to church with me this morning.

First, we ask, why?

Why was Jesus baptized? Really, think about it? Had he sinned? We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Son so it doesn’t really seem like he should need to be baptized. On one hand, the answer to this one is simple, he didn’t need to be baptized but he chose to be baptized! Christian writers over the years have been uncomfortable with the idea of the divine being baptized. In the 2nd century Ignatius stated that he was already pure and so the purpose was to purify the water. Justin Martyr explained that he was baptized “for the sake of humanity.” One might also say that it was a symbol or affirmation of his true humanity.

Why do we baptize? According to Living Faith we baptize as a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church. Through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to his service.

Secondly, we ask, what?

What was baptism in Jesus’ time? In the Old Testament immersion had been a form of returning to ritual cleanliness. In the New Testament, John announced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or purification of the body after the soul was cleansed by righteousness. Before immersion in a river John required prior repentance and performance of good deeds.  In Jesus’ day baptism was a radical, counter-cultural act. Luke highlights this with his mention of the fact that Herod was made so nervous by John baptizing people in the Jordan, and people questioning whether John may be the Messiah, that after John called him out on his marriage to Herodius he had him arrested, imprisoned and eventually killed.

Jesus was already an adult when he went to the river where John was baptizing. Since it was just a couple weeks ago that we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, it is sometimes hard to remember that there was no cute little white dress, or white suit, candles and Godparents.

Jesus’ baptism was public but with no big hoopla or special notice. In Luke’s account it is just slipped in. John explains to the people there that he is neither worthy to unlace the Messiah’s sandals, nor able to baptize with anything but water; while the one who was coming would baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The actual “story” of the baptism is no more than one line stating that the people and Jesus had been baptized and then it jumps to an undetermined time later when Jesus was praying. It is at this point that heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We are given no indication that anyone other than Jesus himself is witness to these signs and statements.

What is baptism in the Presbyterian Church in Canada? Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the Presbyterian Church. Living Faith 7.6.3 “By the power of the Holy Spirit God acts through Baptism. It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ. God’s grace and our response to it are not tied to the moment of Baptism, but continue and deepen throughout life. It is a sacrament meant for those who profess their faith and for their children. Together we are the family of God. 7.6.5 Baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Lastly, we ask, how?

How do we decide to be baptized? As Christian parents people make the decision to raise their children in the church and the first step in that is to have them baptized. One PCC document says that, “When people seek baptism later in life, it means that the Holy Spirit, as a guide and friend, has moved them to claim the grace and love of God in Christ, and faith in a new way. It is a courageous action.”

How are we baptized? Living Faith 7.6.2 “In Baptism, water is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water signifies the washing away of sin, the start of new life in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

How are we meant to live out our baptisms? 7.6.4 “Baptism is also an act of discipleship that requires commitment and looks towards growth in Christ. Those baptized in infancy are called in later years to make personal profession of Christ. What is born may die. What is grafted may wither. Congregations and those baptized must strive to nurture life in Christ.”

We begin when the Holy Spirit ignites a passion in us. We seek to discern our vocations, we seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the ways of Jesus, and we attempt to live in such a way that people see Christ in our lives.

The thing with seeking to answer the big questions is that more often than not we are left with a whole list of new questions. This can be very frustrating, especially if we want to leap right into the action phase of a project. Remember that we are not alone. We have our church family and most importantly we have God. Jesus said he would always be with us through the Holy Spirit. We can continue to have conversations with others and it is vital that we continue the conversation with God in prayer. When we face the next question in living out our baptisms go back to the beginning, start with why and listen for God’s answer.

 

Your Church Can Thrive: Making the Connections that build healthy congregations by Harold Percy, Abingdon Press 2003

Living Faith -https://www.google.com/url?q=http://presbyterian.ca/resources-od/&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwjuiavu-Z_KAhUkUKYKHX1TCjQQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFxxynHAbwDAa92okqQqlWM4Kj4SQ

 

Heroes of the Bible: Three Men and a Furnace


How many of you knew when you saw the title that I would be reflecting on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? One source I read called this story a farce, with everything so exaggerated as to make it ridiculous. As I was reading it I found myself almost laughing at the repetition of the whole list of different officials or the long list of instruments. Farces are fun, but as you are aware the best political cartoons while farcical are very telling. This story is certainly one of the saving power of God it is also a story about three heroes who stood up for what they believed despite potential dire consequences!

This story is from the time of the Babylonian exile. The king at the time was Nebuchadnezzar II. At that time the Babylonian empire had control of vast areas from modern day Iraq, some of Persia, the Holy Land, and , at its height, all of Egypt. It was impossible for one man to rule such a vast area so Nebuchadnezzar had scores of governors, and lesser officials each with their own authority and territory and one of them was Daniel. After having a dream interpreted by Daniel the king was very happy and granted Daniel’s request to appoint his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to high offices.

We pick up here with today’s story. The king had a sixty cubit tall idol constructed and made a decree that everyone must bow down to the idol when they heard certain music  (a long and specific list of instruments and the ensemble) and that anybody who failed to do so would be thrown “immediately” into the furnace.  With the king’s decree in place some of the Babylonian officials noticed some people not bowing down as ordered. This information was passed on to the king, that some Jews were not complying and naming Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who had recently been raised to positions of authority (presumably over Babylonians).

Despite the edict saying they would be immediately thrown into the furnace, the king had the men brought to him. They were questioned and then they were given a choice of following the decree or being thrown into the furnace. They answered first that they didn’t need to defend themselves to him and then that they would not bow to the idol. Just saying that they didn’t have to answer to the King was a major thing, and the they chose the furnace! Furious the king had them bound by his strongest men, the furnace heated to seven times its usual temperature (again an extreme unlikely to be possible), and had them thrown in.

The result was not what Nebuchadnezzar had expected. First his strong men who threw our friends into the furnace were themselves consumed by the fire. Then the king saw those three men, no longer bound and joined by another, walking around in the furnace. Taken aback he checked with others to confirm that he had indeed had three and not four men cast into the furnace. (the comic double take) Then he noticed that while the friends looked just as they had, the fourth man “had the look of a god”.

He called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the fire. They came out with no sign of having been anywhere near a fire. They didn’t even have that nice campfire smell. “Therefore (the king makes a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins…” Dan 3:29

Did these three men have a superpower that made them fire resistant? Of course not! Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, their Hebrew names, went by the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were exiles from Jerusalem, educated, thanks to the Babylonian schools, and friends of Daniel. Through that association they had been named as officials of the province of Babylon. With positions of power they were living well, and yet they were not free to go home to Judah. As God had instructed the exiles, they had built houses and planted crops and blended in with the population of the day. Unlike most of the Jews these three, and Daniel presumably, had not taken up worship of the gods of their Babylonian captors.

For the most part furnaces are used in metaphorical ways in the Bible to represent a variety of things such as; God’s judging and testing, a refining fire to strengthen or to reform the people of Israel, and to represent the presence of God. We also associate that kind of fire with condemnation, like the fires of hell. The type of furnace being referred to in the story is probably one for smelting and refining metals and would therefore be both large and very hot, though I doubt it could be heated to seven times its regular heat without it breaking down. Nor do I think it likely that they had a furnace so large that four grown men could walk around in it.

I don’t think that the idols and furnaces which we face in our own lives are very different from those in today’s story. We have lots of idols and furnaces don’t we? We are rarely ordered to bow down but rather encouraged by clever marketing etc. But there are people in our world today being forced to change religion. In some African and the Middle Eastern countries groups like Boko Haram are actively forcing people, through kidnapping and threats of death, to convert from Christianity and Judaism (or any other religion) to Islam. As Matthew warns in 10: 18, disciples, “you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.” He continues in verse 28 to say, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” For those who endure to the end will come through the furnace unscathed!”

So what was the superpower that these three men shared? What was it that made them heroes? Their superpower was the conviction of their faith. They chose the fire, not because they assumed that God would save them, but because they would not break faith, they would not deny the god of their ancestors. They were what some sources call catalyst heroes. In a way like mentors, they acted heroically but they didn’t change much themselves, rather they brought about change in others. In this story the other is Nebuchadnezzar who, though not giving up his gods, comes to acknowledge and respect the God of Abraham as the only god who could have delivered in this way (Dan 3:29).  In terms of the author’s purpose for this story it seems likely that the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was used as a catalyst to change the Jews to return them to the worship of the Almighty God.

While the steadfastness of our heroes’ was a catalyst to change, it was of course God himself who protected them from the fire in the furnace. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar God doesn’t really need us to worship him as without us he still has the whole of creation to praise him. As to his fiery furnace, we read in the Psalm this morning that God’s fire consumes his adversaries. Our heroes firmly stood on the ground of, and then were cast into the fire for the Almighty God not because they trusted that he would save them, but because they believed that he was the one true god. Nobody enjoys the furnace, the refining process. But when we find ourselves being coerced into worshiping other things let’s join Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in jumping from the frying pan to the fire!

Scripture refereces:

Daniel 3: 1-30

Psalm 97

Matthew 10: 16-33

Nel, Marius North-West University, (Potchefstroom) Daniel 3 as satirical comedy file:///C:/Users/Cathy/Downloads/263-791-1-PB.pdf

Types of Heroes (Adapted from Vogler, 1999, pp. 41–44) http://www.waunakee.k12.wi.us/faculty/lcarothers/ModernLiterature/LessonBeforeDying/Types%20of%20Heroes.pdf

To Stay Or To Go/ Serving One Master


Coda and ShaniI am currently living with my sister for a couple of months and I decided to bring my dog along with me. (he is the little one on the left) It has been interesting watching as they learn to interact with each other as well as with my sister and me.

One of the more interesting things is their figuring out to whom they should be listening. When I tell Coda it is ok to go ahead and eat Shani takes it as her permission as well etc.  Today I was listening from upstairs as my sister did a little training session with the two of them together.  At one point she was trying to get Coda to learn to play dead at the same time as having her dog practice.  It was quite entertaining and I could picture in my head as one would be just about to be rewarded and the other (mostly Coda) would pop up.  My sister told me that one time she called for Coda to do position (between her legs) and Coda started towards her and she looked down and discovered Shani there instead.

This all got me thinking about our struggle to remain obedient and faithful to God. ” ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24) Not to imply that we are dogs, but I believe we are in exactly the same quandary as our two little dogs. Which one are we supposed to listen to when one is saying “stay” and the other is calling “come”?  For the dogs I suspect there is a combination of inclination to follow the one they know the best but often overtaken by the one most likely to give them a treat.

In our society almost everyone in the commercial world is offering treats of one kind or another; fancy car, softer/firmer skin, guaranteed weight loss, popularity etc. Even if falsely advertised, the rewards of our world are right there in front of us. They are visible and we see other people who have them and wish we could as well. Those rewards are lacking though. They do not include a deeper bond with anybody, they don’t involve a greater understanding of self.

God is the one we know the best as well as the one who has given and offers the best reward.  The problem is that the gifts are neither visible nor tangible. While the gift of new life is already given, it is only immediately present if we are choosing to live it.  God’s call is more subtle, quieter, and easily drowned out by the others clamoring for our attention but we need to listen more closely and stay when he says stay, or go when he says to go.

Brought to you by the numbers 7 and 4


Kingsclear-20130411-00562One week before choir practice I took the opportunity to set the hymn board for Sunday’s service.  I started by taking all the numbers I would need out of the pile and I started to worry that I might run out of sevens and fours.  At the practice later I commented, “This weeks service will be brought to you by the numbers four and seven.”  After we finished joking around about Sesame Street and the shows brought to us by a number and a letter each episode, we went on to practice.

As a member of the team who select the weekly hymns I can assure you that we did not set out to see how few different digits we could use.  We had no bias that week against twos, threes, fives, or nines.  There are times in the church year, like Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Easter when the majority of the hymns will come from that seasonal section of the book.  At these times all the numbers will be within around thirty of each other.  If the theme for the week is mission the numbers are likely to be in the 700 s as that is the area of the book for that type of hymn.

Our Presbyterian Church in Canada Book of Praise, like most I expect, is organized with the sung Psalms at the beginning, sections of hymns for the seasons of the church year in order, then a section for God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the Trinity. The rest of the book is organized thematically.

A quick look at the hymn board when you first enter the church should give you a pretty good idea of the theme for the service.

Hymn selection for services may seem random to the people in the pews, and indeed it may be some of the time, but usually a lot of thought and reflection goes into the choices.  An integral part of worship, the hymns should be carrying the theme through the service and helping you to perceive and internalize the message.

Check it out the next time you are in a church, whether using a bulletin or the hymn board.  Look up a couple of the hymns to see what sections they are in.  Are they grouped closely together or spread out?

I realize that many churches probably don’t use hymn boards any more, instead projecting the hymns and service information at the front.  Our church uses bulletins we give to each person with the order of service, unison prayers, hymn numbers and announcements.  I guess we don’t really need a hymn board, but it is tradition.  Back when the Psalms were in our Book of Praise the number of the responsive Psalm would also have been on the board which is why there are five rows and only four hymn numbers.

As The Trip Begins


As I begin to write this morning I am awaiting the arrival of my travel buddy, my sister.  We are off for our summer adventure, this year a road trip.

We don’t have any very specific plans other than our usual plan to seek out cozy spots to read.  i realize that many wouldn’t find that very exciting!  For us, though, guilt-free pleasure reading time is more the definition of relaxation.

So, other than loading our Kobos up with books, it was a little tricky to figure out what to pack.  Would we need to dress up for anything?  Will we be hiking? Maybe both things, so one dress type outfit and the sport sneakers rather than the cute ones…

I never cease to be amazed at the directions Jesus gave the twelve before they let on their first solo ministry trips.  He didn’t provide maps, didn’t divide up the territory and assign a portion to each team.  All he said was to stay together with their travel buddies, to pack nothing and to leave a place where their message was unwelcome.  Don’t pack anything.  No food, no money, not even a change of clothes or sandals.  Imagine if someone suggested we should do that today!

Almost as surprising as Jesus’ directions, given his proven concern for their well-being, is the fact that twelve grown and self-suficient men followed the directions!  They went out and later were able to report that people did listen to them and that they had been able to heal people.  Would that have been different if they had surreptitiously tucked a little bag of spending money under their cloaks?

Clearly, I am not meaning to suggest that we shouldn’t pack a bag for our vacations.  i am, however, aware of times in my life when I have felt called to do something but left it undone because I didn’t feel equipped to do it.  I missed chances to do as I had been directed because I didn’t have my bag packed.  

“He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.” (Mark 6:8)

Second Only To God: Family Comes First


Today’s topic came naturally out of my morning quandary about what to wear.  As I stood looking at my closet I had in mind that I was dressing not just for church, but for a lunch-time family gathering with almost all of my family of orientation followed by supper with my family of procreation and my father-in-law.  A full day of activity and social contact, this would normally be just my kind of day, but if it weren’t church and family I would be begging off and spending the day resting up for the coming work week.

If you have been with me from the beginning, you may remember my post about priorities titled What Would You Have Left if You Lost Everything? https://curlingupwithgod.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=660&action=edit  In that post I talked about an exercise I do with my classes in which they write down the six things that are most important in their lives, and then one-by-one they have to choose which of them to lose.  It can be pretty difficult when you get down, for instance, to the choice of God, your spouse, or your children.  It also shows just how unimportant things like our cars and our homes are for most people.

Back to today.  The only time I skip church is if I’m away or if I can barely stand due to illness, and there is certainly no way that I am going to miss a chance to visit with my brother and sister-in-law who only get to town once-a-year.  That takes us up to supper time (the evening meal).  We make a point of going to see, and eat with, my father-in-law on Sunday evenings.  It is vital to us that our kids have a close relationship with their grandparents.  They see my parents regularly at church, but their paternal grandfather goes to a different church and so we have, since they were little, gone for weekly visits.

Continuing to prepare for the day, I was putting on my rings.  First I put on my wedding band and engagement ring, an obvious priority in my life.  After that I had choices and I got thinking about the fact that almost everyone would put a ring they bought for themselves in a different category than one that had belonged to a now-deceased family member.  There is more meaning to my grandmother’s wedding ring than the cute ring I got when I finished my lay ministry course. 

In the Bible we see that God created people as man and woman.  He saw the need for us to have helpmates or partners.  When human children are born they are uniquely dependant.  Unlike all other species, humans are not able to fend for themselves until far beyond a year.  This fact made families of whatever configuration necessary for their survival,  and continues to do so.  The cycle continues when we leave our parents and “cleave to” our own life partners.

Getting Your Gulls In A Row: 4 Steps to Eternal Life


So, I’ve had this picture and title, “Getting Your Gulls In A Row,” sitting in a draft post for a couple of months now but it just didn’t go any further.  I’m trusting that inspiration is going to come to me as I type.

You will be familiar with the expression, “get your ducks in a row” for the idea of getting your thoughts straight (in a row) and all the necessary tools and raw materials (the ducks) to get a project underway and all the way to completion.

Across the hall from me at the moment there is a group of young people meeting with the minister with a view to becoming communicant members of the congregation.  In our church we call making this commitment Confirmation, in the Baptist congregations it would be Baptism.  Our kids were baptised as children and parents made the Christian commitment on their behalf, but now we are looking at helping them to understand about our faith and our denomination so that they can make that same covenant with God of their own volition.

On the drive out to the church this morning I was thinking about the common type of article which draws people in with titles that begin with things like, “ten easy steps…”  In the context of getting gulls in a row, and confirmation classes I could simplify the process of attaining eternal life as follows:

  1. Believe

  2. Question

  3. Believe anyway

  4. Repeat as necessary